Category Archives: Just Watching

Just Watching – October 2018

Audie and I have made “the move”.   Teetering on the edge of 90 we have joined Abraham, Sara and Lot by putting our Ur of the Chaldees (101 Villa Way) in the rear view mirror while heading for our personal ultimate Promise Land with maybe a layover or two in between, the latest being Windsor Park Manor.

Our Windsor Park Postal Service address is 130 Windsor Park Drive C304, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188.   Our e-mail and cell phone addresses remain the same but the telephone land line number has changed to 630-933-9395.  With all the data in hand we feel we will be easy for our friends and family to find – when and if they seek.

As I write out all those new numbers needed to locate us my mind turns to an old post card that was addressed to my grandfather, William Steinkamp, in the1890s.  It was simply addressed to Teacher Steinkamp, Topeka, Kansas.  That’s it – and he got it.  Skip any digit of my numerical descriptive and my mail is likely as not to end up in the dead letter box of Pocatello, Idaho.

In my current circumstance I am reminded of George Burn’s line about reaching 95 years of age.  He said, “If I’d known I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself.”  My spin on that is that if I’d known how tough it to move your residence when nearing 90 I would have taken that step years ago.  And so say many who are matching our age while experiencing their own pilgrim’s progress.

In the midst of our transitioning I came upon something by Dr. Roger Weise, a highly regarded Chicago area geriatrician (and LCMS pastor’s son) that I had quoted over a year ago.  He said:

  1. Age is change over time.
  2. As we age it takes us longer to adapt to change.
  3. The older we are the more unique we become.

In reference to #1 I keep forgetting that change is and always has been a constant.  Every new day is actually a brand-new day.  Like Moses’ manna, my yesterdays get stale and nearly inedible as time passes.  That’s nothing new – except that it keeps surprising me.  Tempus fugits.  Panta rhei. Whether in Latin, Greek or English it’s all the same truth: time flies

A year or so after I had retired as a parish pastor a kid came up to me in a grocery store and asked, “Didn’t you used to be Pastor Mueller?”  Yep, I used to be, but no longer.  Now I’m another being busily trying to figure out how to handle life in a new and very different world.

I also like Wiese’s #2 and #3: change doesn’t come easier as time passes nor does being unique mean being better.  I am a one-of-a-kind, not only as compared to others but as compared to what I did in the past.  Today names can fail me; words can escape me; specific memories often fade.  I need and receive unsolicited assistance from so many people – and I gladly accept it.  Dr. Weise is so right!

All he says that applies to me as a person applies to everyone else, too, though age related denial is rampant – and often laughable.  

It also applies to families and congregations.  Many don’t see  that unstoppable steam engine of change that is high-ballin’ down their life’s main line, bell ringing and whistle blowing and  fail to hear Johnny Cash as he sings, “Do you hear that train a-commin’?”  Well, do I, we, they?

As I’ve aged I have noticed that today’s younger folks-families-congregations accept, adapt to and then adopt their choo-choo of change.  Many have clearly adopted Alexander Pope’s 1711 advice (which shows how long this thing about change has been around),

“Be not the first by whom the new are tried,

Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.”

In that quote I didn’t pick up on his “are tried” in the past.   Pope’s “the new” that “are tried” is a plural.  There’s a lot of new going around.  Some of it turns out pretty good – others don’t.  But it was a constant in his day.  It is still a constant in ours. 

  • That’s why some church’s avant-garde parish practices look so weathered and worn today. Michael’s boat was rowed ashore long ago. 
  • That’s why many of yesterday’s tried and true family traditions are so irrelevant today. They no longer address reality – few families regularly eat supper together nor do they believe that no one should eats until all have prayed together. 
  • Yesterday’s clothing fashions and its pop music look and sound so dated today – like the CDs, tapes and records I dumped when we moved and the scads of old, old clothes Audie and I reluctantly pitched when we relocated. Neither of us kept up with the changing times. 

Older people like Audie and me know all that full well.  We have down sized our home three times over the years and in the process reluctantly dumped “tons” of what we no longer use, no longer need and our kids don’t want. 

Weise’s Observation #2 opens the door to Observation #3:  “…with the passing years, each becomes more unique, unencumbered with much of yesterday’s absolutes”.  Or, maybe were weighed down with yesterday’s irrelevancies.

The truth seems to be that one way or another, people/families/churches are more unique as the years pass.  It’s fascinating how older churches take on a patina of uniqueness while denying change.  One nameless “old lady” refused for years to translate its original German language Constitution into English even though only a few spoke their mother tongue.  When tough issues arose they would tussle with it long enough to develop a kind of group consensus and then ask the pastor, whom they all trusted and whom they believed read German, what their hallowed document had to say on the subject.  Once he sensed what the group was ready – or not ready – to do he announced that their group opinion was supported by their Constitution!  He was their 20th century Oracle of Delphi. 

That church also had Easter Sunrise Services at 9:30am for two reasons: 1) fewer members each year were willing to drive to their inner city location before dawn, and 2) and the neighbors whom they were trying to attract didn’t get up early.  So they did the Joshua-thing: they announced that their Easter Sunrise Service would be held at 9:30 AM.  Only an older congregation, unique in many ways, could pull that off.

To Dr. Weise’s three bullets I would offer as a footnote that those of us who are really old are like Timex watches in the past that can take a licking and keep on ticking.  Nothing makes that point clearer for me as an older pastor than liturgical vestments.  Robes have radically and constantly changed since I bought my first black de rigueur Geneva gown in 1949!  Who wears one today? ‘Time and tide wait for no man.”  True, but it is also true that, “Time and change don’t dawdle either.”

So here I am, face to face with Dr. Weise’s simple formula that touches me, my family and my church: “Age is change over time” – and the times are certainly a-changin’.  Ain’t that the truth!

Blessings,

Charlie “Just Waking Up” van Winkel

I plan to stay on this super-senior kick including what that means, since no one else seems to have much good to say about it and there’s certainly little that’s positive.—and there is so much that God has reserved for us as our life’s stars begin to shine.

Just Watching – September 2018

Audie and I have been so involved in gathering our earthly good in preparation for what we think will be our penultimate life move to Windsor Park Manor (sound elegant, eh?) on or about September 20 that my Just Watching deadline snuck up on me. 

One reason that happened is that even after major down-sizing three times in the last fifteen years, I’m in a state of awe over how much still has to be moved.  I don’t know what we would have done if we didn’t have such great children by birth and marriage plus some wonderful grandchildren who together have made our imminent move possible. 

Not sure how to get at this month’s Just Watching. I decided to check out what I wrote last year.  It still speaks to our family’s moment. A year ago I wrote:

“It looks to me more and more each day that Henry Lyte’s 1847 hymn, “Abide With Me”, had it right: “…change and decay in all around I see…”.  Change for sure.  And a lot of what’s left of my surroundings looks like decay. 

Lest you think you are about to be hit with the rant of a cranky old man let me assure you that as I write, I know, accept and glory in the rest of that verse: “… Oh Thou who changest not abide with me.” 

Henry completed this hymn three weeks before his death from tuberculosis.  Knowing that has helped me appreciate his masterpiece as a whole and that familiar line in particular.  His theme and the way he peppered his end-of-life hymn with the pronouns “I” and “me” has made it a faith favorite for nearing 300 years. 

Change has been a generational constant from our world’s Day One whether as between generations or within them.  And decay?  The ardent evolutionist’s premise that creation trends toward improvement over the eons on its own doesn’t match my perception or experience. 

Maybe that’s why a precis of Concordia Seminary’s Dr. Paul Raabe that I found in www.concordiatheology.org struck me as it did.  His topic features challenges (he called them “Elephants in the Room”) that LCMS congregations as a whole and her members individually face every day.  I’ll list his specifics and then leave it to you to determine how each plays out in your world.  By the way, he says they are all interconnected.

Elephant 1.  The challenge of a geographical mismatch we face in that most congregations and schools of the LCMS are located in the middle of the country and in rural areas, but most of the US population lives on the two coasts and in huge metro areas.

Elephant 2.  The challenge of reaching and attracting the multi-ethnic population in the U.S., (Hispanics, Africans, and Asians, for example) to our predominately Caucasian congregations.  Families?  Communities?

Elephant 3.  The challenge of non-church-attendance.  Surveys show that on any given Sunday only 18% of the U.S. attend a church…over 80% do not.  Are most Americans simply not “into” church and as Robert Putnam would put it, go “bowling alone?”

Elephant 4.  The challenge of working in a multi-religious environment not only with non-Christian religions but also with many different versions of Christianity.  Many Americans we seek to evangelize have preconceived notions about Christianity that are distortions of the Christian faith and life – at least the one in which I was reared.

Elephant 5.  The challenge of biblical illiteracy among church-going Christians.  Many Christians cannot speak and think in larger biblical ways; they only know a few biblical sound bites.  Along with that many Lutherans are unfamiliar with the basic documents of our denomination like the Small Catechism (not to mention the Large).

Elephant 6.  The challenge of living the Christian-life in this time and place.  What writes the script for non-Christians view of life writes the script for many Christians as well: the entertainment industry, social media, corporate America, radical individualism and current popular and/or political ideologies (take your red, blue or multi-colored choice).  As a result, the life of many Christians differs very little from that of non-Christians.

Dr. Raabe’s “wrap” is as challenging as his Six Elephants:

“Every generation is called to be faithful in its own time and place, to confess the truth of the gospel (Galatians 2:5), to teach the written Word of God in its truth and purity (2 Timothy 2:15; 3:15-17), to walk in the ways of the Lord (Isaiah 2), to proclaim repentance unto the forgiveness of sins to all nations (Luke 24:44-49).  With such huge, overwhelming, elephant-like challenges facing us, we are tempted to lift up our hands and cry out in utter despair, “What’s the point?”  But it is 2017 anno domini, in the year of the Lord.  Jesus the Messiah, crucified and risen for all, is that Lord.  Therefore our labor in his name is not in vain.”

So…

How are you dealing with the Six Elephants in yourself and in your world of family, church and community?  Denying that the Elephants do not loom large in your life won’t cut it.

I once saw a book plate featuring a sailing ship hull down heading toward for the horizon and the words, “More to Come”.  That’s a very Biblical take on life both existentially (our day-in-day-out stuff) and eternally (Henry Lyte’s abide-with-me views).  We are all that ship, sails full and billowing, driving through the waters toward a horizon over which we will topple into oblivion (as some see the future), or are heading with Henry and millions of God’s people past and present toward and into our home port.  What about you? 

As for me and my house we believe there’s more to come – and more to do – until as we are safely harbored with Him.”

So far the replay of 2017 thoughts.  Now as Audie and I move on into another of life’s chronological levels and a brand new residential arena, we move forward believing that. “… yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery while today is His gift – which is why we call it the present.” Whoever originally authored that phrase is not important.  Knowing that its truth for me and my house, is.

On September 20th Audie and I will say again, “This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it,” Amen to that.

Vaya con Dios,

Charlie

Just Watching – August 2018

As I wind my way down life’s road toward a 90th birthday a number of things are on my mind, three in particular.  They organize under familiar headings.  Can you fill in the blanks?

  • Something __ __ __, 2) Something __ __ __, 3) Something__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __.

#1  Something __ __ __.

Last Monday an e-mail popped up on my computer.  It was from an old acquaintance.  It’s not that he is old.  Not at all.  He’s maybe seventeen.  Some years ago I was his once-a-week-elementary-school-lunchtime mentor.  He was such a little kid, a recent immigrant with an electric mind, wild imagination, curiosity about everything and boundless energy.  For seven years we met and talked each week about whatever was on his mind.  Actually for the most part he talked and I listened.  He thought I was a paid school employee doing my duty rather than a volunteer who wanted to be his friend. 

I lost contact with him when he moved out of elementary school into High School.  Through teachers I knew I was somewhat aware of how he was doing.  Not too good.  I had lost weekly one-on-one contact. He didn’t respond to the e-mails.  In time I stopped sending them but I did keep him in my prayers – and waited.   

Through the grapevine I heard he was making some poor choices, had hooked up with a bad crowd and was starting to dabble with drugs.  In time heard he had gotten into trouble and was transferred to a remedial education program.  He also broke a leg and was immobilized for about a month.  I now know that while his body was inactive, not so his mind.  Alone and at home he remembered among other things our hours together and finally he decided to write me. 

His letter opened with, “Not a day goes by that you aren’t in my thoughts.”  From that point on it only got better.  In a long posting he reported on his life since last we had talked and apologized for letting our contact flag.  He quoted Isaiah 4:10 (would you believe it!) and closed by saying he would understand if I didn’t want to contact him anymore.  His wrap?  “…you will always be in my heart dear friend.”  Oh my!  In a few lines something very old re-budded and blossomed anew.

Reading his letter my mind went back to Dr. Walter Wente a teacher whom I met when I was barely a teen.  He was unbelievably patient with both me and others like me during our challenging early teen years but he never gave up on us as we were growing up. 

If I was the kind of mentor my young friend needed as he was growing it was because I had had such a great one in my teens.  So much that has been old in my past became old gold.

# 2  From what’s old to what is  __ __ __.

For Audie and me on the edge of our 90s the next word refers to new housing and a new take on life. 

It has become increasingly clear to us that we had to find a senior’s residence for our future because we needed to do less cooking (but more of the same good eating); less tending our living quarters up (while maintaining the same life standards Audie has set over the years); less got-to’s and more get-to’s (sustaining our connection with family, old friends and other familiar connections).  After checking out many possibilities we chose to make Windsor Park Manor in Carol Stream, Illinois our next stop on our life’s road.  We sought and found.   

Our children, grandchildren and friends have all been enormously helpful in the search for our Shangri La.  One of the lessons I learned as we searched is that learning how to accept help that is offered and that, stubborn German that I am, I need.  Change is a constant that means I need constant assistance in facing it.  Many things I once did easily I can no longer do but a great day dawned when I recognized that the world is full of people who are as eager to help me as I once delighted in helping others.   What goes around really does come around – if we let it.

Really believing that readies me for the tidal wave of surprising new things from many surprising corners of life with which God blesses His older “children” – including things that did not originate with us, like this one, ker-splash!:

#3   Something __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __.

Did you say “borrowed”?  Right you are.

For years Rich and I have been beating the bushes on behalf the joy of ageing.  Make that JOY.  Opposing almost all we have been saying are the endless line up of products guaranteed to make you look young again.  Why would I want to do that?  It took me a long time to develop those wrinkles, crow’s feet, silver threads among the gold.  Making my way through the teens and twenties into my thirties, middle age and leading up to an empty nest has been a long, tough battle through adolescence.  Don’t tell me all there is to look forward to are black balloons, over-the-hill banners, and moaning about the deteriorating quality of life after our 40th or 50th birthday.    Help!  And help there is from the AARP, no less.

Whether AARP borrowed from a sturdy but small band who have been fighting the battle against joy-less ageing or they from us a battle line is forming taking their cue from the traditional Hispanic celebration of quinceanera (marking a young lady’s 15th birthday) by pushing for a new holiday they call Cincuentaneros which celebrates one’s 50th birthday as one of life’s highlights, a door to more of what life has to offer in the great years yet to come.  Mark it.  I’ll have more about this “borrowed” holiday in the months to come.

Blessings on your days.  May they be filled with God’s goodness that come to you  as something old, something new or something borrowed.  One thing for sure, when He holds you in His even what looks blue will be beautiful.

Charlie

Just Watching – July 2018

My report of Dr. Laura Christensen’s “perennial” insights from the May ’18 AARP Bulletin had hardly bedded down in my mind before I began living out the life about which she had written. 

It started when, over the last weekend, I felt very tired.  Unknown to me my temperature was working its way up to and then past 102 degrees as an infection was building that attacked my blood, my heart and other inner parts of my body.  The first I realized something bad was going on was when I found myself lying on the floor (how’d I get here?) being questioned by two burly but kindly EMTs (how’d they get here?) at 2AM.  Did I know where I was?  (I think so.)  Did I know the year?  (1980?)  Did I know our president?  (Reagan, of course.)

One out of three – not bad.  With that the adventure really swung into full force. 

I don’t share what follows seeking sympathy.  My hope is to share with my peers some newer “perennial” insights – like that we who are actual “perennials” react to physical  events in life very differently at 89 than we would have at 29.  At 29 a 102+ degree temperature and an accompanying infection is a different and more easily controlled critter than that which dropped me to the floor, confused my thinking and threatened to spread a serious infection to my blood, my heart and other parts of me.  

And so it was that at 2 AM Thursday last I was wheeled into the emergency entrance of St. Alexian hospital and involuntarily enrolled in an unscheduled extension course focused on everyday “perennial” world happenings.  

The faculty? Younger, skilled and hardworking medical specialists of all kinds who are on duty, 24/7, rolling electronic devices from room to room while drawing blood, quantifying pressures and tracking nerve responses.    In terms of gender, race, creed or color the small army that I came to know are a microcosm of our wide, wide world. 

Why do I write?

I’m amazed at how out of touch with reality so many of us are.  Age denial on a personal level is rampant in our world.  Worse yet age is seen as a problem rather than a rising part of our perennial life itself.  Facing our today while preparing for tomorrow is seen by all too few as Longfellow’s “…opportunity itself though in another dress…” and fewer yet as his, “stars invisible by day.”  Stars!  Shmars!  Close the drapes.  Maybe it will all go away. 

Go away?  Why?  It’s all part of God’s plan.  I don’t want to miss a thing.  What I need is all the help I can get for interpreting His present while working at foretelling His future, God’s great gifts – for me and you.

There’s so much more to see and say about the perennial life.  Would I like to be 16 again?  What did I do so wrong that I would have to live that age all over again and miss out on the wondrous perennial world that surrounds me today?

More of the perennial world to come!

Blessings,  Charlie

Just Watching – June 2018

Perennial.  An R and C word for the month.  Perennial.  Got it? The word is usually a descriptive relating to flowers or plants or some vegetables.  (A perennial is a plant that is enduring and recurs annually like daffodils, day lilies, asparagus or hosta.)  Recently an aging “expert” applied it to men and women in my age bracket.  Imagine that: me a perennial!

The latest AARP Bulletin (May 2018) contained a Q and A segment featuring Dr. Laura Carstensen who was described as a top aging expert on staff at Stanford University.  Just think of it!  One of our nation’s premier universities has a faculty member rated as a “top aging expert”!  A hundred and fifty years ago “aging”, and a related word like gerontology weren’t even recognized as a topic for university study.

So says Dr. Carstensen who writes, “When I was in graduate school 30 years ago, old age was considered to be pathological.  (Pathology means, ‘…involving, caused by, or of the nature of a physical or mental disease’).”  A disease, yet! 

She continues, “…and I happily went along with that.  But when I began studying elders I found that they were doing really well emotionally, even when they weren’t doing so well physically.  They were generous, thoughtful and emotionally complex. And I thought ‘If those qualities are growing (nationally) because our population is aging, then we’d be idiots not to use that resource to improve society’.”

Then her zinger.  She said that she had begun describing people like me and my peers who are well past 70 as “perennials”.  Why?   We aren’t over-the-hill annuals as some would have it.  We are of a blossoming cycle that annually produces fresh growth in every new season of life.  We’re not over the hill and then on to a of never ending path of down, down, down.  Perennials experience annual renewal on the ladder of life as more and more of us not only live longer but live longer – longer! 

I recently zipped past my 89th birthday on my way to 90.  As I understand the term perennial relates to me as I head for a world of greater growth and broader service, especially to my descendants.   But from whom am I to learn about this upward and onward take on life?  Not from any ancestral male Mueller.  I am the longest lived Mueller male in direct lineage going back to 1680 and beyond.  So from whence will come a helping hand?

At one level the answer to me is the same-old-same-old.  My help comes from the Lord who guides me in and by the Word that is “…a lamp to my feet and a guide to my path” (Psalm 119: 105).  It is there to aid me as it has helped all generations deal with “change and decay” since God’s Day One. 

But what Dr. Carstensen means about seeing my aging life in perennial terms is that both I and those around me are called to come at our present and future with a perennial mindset.  Today’s people and today’s challenges are different from any in the past.  Living longer and living longer – longer means we are meant to face God’s many, many “new” deals with the perennially “renewed” body He gives us.  

We can’t act as if we are not of the jet age, the electronic age, the age of scientific change (and hopefully advances) on every side.  We need to think ahead to the developing world of not just of our children, of our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren – and even beyond.  What we will do will depend on what we see developing perennially.

One example of how that happens comes from the 1970s and 1980s when our parish had a vision for helping congregations enter the 20th century computer age feet first.  Hoping to help that happen they gave dozens of computers and church related computer programs to churches that were open to a little push. 

In the process of doing that there would usually be a church meeting during which someone would protest introducing computers to the church ending his speech triumphantly asking, “What can you do with a computer that you couldn’t do with a pencil and paper?”  My answer?  “Nothing – except you don’t.”  A little more fussing and then the group would be overcome with an advance case of common sense and enter the computer age. 

So here I am today wondering how best to help older people come to grips with what it means to be a perennial.  It seems to me that we need to apply Wayne Dyer’s observation to this moment:

“When you change the way you look at a thing, the thing you look at changes.”

If today’s octogenarians can be helped to see themselves as perennials they would simultaneously recognize that there is more to life than just surviving.  Instead they would be open to living a life that is more exciting, lively, busy and challenging than it has ever been before.  Audie and I have been led to see that three reasons we are still here is to 1) serve our four grown children (and their spouses), 2) a ton of grandchildren that are ours by birth or marriage and 3) the cherry atop our familial sundae is the more than a dozen great grandchildren on the scene – with more on the way.  That isn’t what we specifically foresaw when we married in 1953.  Our world is a rapidly spinning carousel that instead of slowing down as we age keeps picking up speed.  Look out world, here we come!

So what does acting my age at 89 look like in 2018 given that ours is pan-generational, extended family constantly celebrating some family member’s birthday, or baptism, or confirmation, or graduation, or marriage, or anniversary, or promotion, or emergency or any of a myriad of other significant life events?  These are no send-a-card-and-forget-it moments.  Each calls for coordination, commitment – and our thoughtful and involved presence more than any presents.  And that is to say nothing about perennial requirements to weep with those who weep their way through break ups, broken bones, challenging diagnoses and zillions of other life setbacks.  That’s when perennials like us are on active duty ready with a sympathetic ear and an encouraging word.   Pooling all that reminds me of a favorite Rich Bimler-ism: “Getting older is the only way to live.”  To which we add, “…if you want to.”  Recognizing that wanting to honor our age is a choice that authentic perennials make – which is what this issue of JW is all about. 

  • It’s about the ever increasing number of us whom God has reserved to live past 85 years of age today under Mordecai’s “… for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14)
  • It’s about the scary discovery that like it or not we perennials are pioneers with little precedent from our past to fall back upon as we face our new and changing world.
  • It’s about a willingness, under the Word, to adjust our way of viewing the challenges that our descendants face and offer them our best as the time tested 2018 perennials that we are.

Count me in. You?

Perennially, Charlie

Just Watching – May 2018

I’m not sure why but of late three things have been much on my mind –

  1. the word “grownup” (does anyone grow down?),
  2. Jack of Beanstalk fame and
  3. the world into which I recently slipped – or involuntarily slid – or maybe was pushed when I passed my 89th

Why now?  Is it because I am nearing 90 that end-of-life milestone that these three items are on my mind?  Maybe.  But as I fiddled with the three-some cited, a number of feelings surfaced starting with the word “grownup”.    

Digging around a little I discovered that “grown up” popped up in the English language in the 17th century.  Among several of its early meanings that word refers to growing, or becoming mature, or being adult, even ripening.  As I researched one of the questions I had was, “Is anyone ever fully grown up and, if so, how would she/he know?”  What do you think? 

As I traveled further down that road I wondered, “Do we first become a fully developed Grown UP, then shift life gears and start growing DOWN—whatever that might mean?”  I suspect that thought stemmed from the fairy story of Jack and his bean stalk that involved going UP the stalk and then DOWN.   Remember?

Jack was the son of a poor widow who sent him to sell her last possession: a cow.  Enroute to town Jack was talked into swapping the cow for some “magic” beans.  When he got back home and told his mom about his big deal she exploded with anger, threw those beans as far as she could, sent Jack to bed and grieved all night over having such a clueless son.

Overnight those beans sprouted where they were thrown and became a mighty vine sprang from the ground and swooped up into the clouds.  When Jack awoke and saw what had happened he clambered up that vine until he reached a giant’s castle where he found a pot of gold, a goose that laid golden eggs and a magic harp.  Snagging all three he slid down that vine bee lining it for home sweet home, the giant hot on his trail.  In the nick of time he hit the ground, chopped down the vine where it was goodbye giant and hello happily-ever-after.  Lutheran that I am I immediately asked, “What might all that mean?”  Could the story be about everyone’s experiences as they were growing older until they found themselves hip deep in the golden years (like my today?) wondering what else is there yet to come in life, Alfie?  

As a Christian I know there is more.  I’m heading for my Father’s house.   But what am I to do down here until that roll is called up yonder?  Shall I park my bus and wait?  Do I start growing down even though there is no reverse life?  No way.  Life is a one-way bean stalk.  We can grow only one way – up! 

If portions of the Psalms and many other places in Scripture are to be believed once we pass that three score and ten mile-stone there’s still much more gold in them thar’ comin’ years waiting to be found.  Endless TV commercials and print media ads push a their back-to-our-teens Plan B with youth-restoring pills, potions, lotions, dietary supplements and medical devices all guaranteed to reverse the tide of time.  I see them as age-denial fakes, short term placebos that steal from me the individualized golden years God tailored just for me.  To do what?   The gold is not in me.  It’s in caring for those still on the way.  Psalm 78:5-7 is a great growing up guide when it tells us:

“He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children; that the next generation might know them – the children yet unborn – and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments…”  

Translation?  Grown Ups stay busy helping their Growing Up descendants by Growing Out to them! 

Psalm 70:17,18 offers another punchy insight that will keep your Grown Up life growing:

“O God, from my youths thou hast taught me, and I still proclaim thy wondrous deeds.  So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, till I proclaim thy might to all the generations to come.  Thy power and Thy righteousness, O God, reach the high heavens.”  Translation?  We’re on duty, creaky bones and all, until we die.

At 89 years and 9 days I’m a work in process, a 21st century Growing UP great grandparent who is committed to Growing Out.   So, what else is there to do?  Want to team UP?

Blessings, 

Charlie

Just Watching – April 2018

Here I am, a few days past my life’s 89th mile marker, feeling like I’m trapped between two very different worlds.  I have one foot firmly planted in the 70-plus domain.  My other foot is in the 30-and-under realm of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  The problem?  It’s tough making it that way especially when I have the sinking feeling that the gap between the two is growing.

Is there a chance that all those 30 and under youngsters will understand the world into which their grandparents were so unceremoniously dumped upon their early 20th century arrivals?  How do we explain to our newest generations what a world without Social Security, Medicare, an interstate highway system, jets and a jet set, ball point pens and most of today’s electronic devices was like?  It’s like describing green to someone blind.  Add to all that the zillion or so political, social, economic or cultural shifts that have kicked in since the 1920s.  We who experienced them can ourselves barely believe they happened.   L.P. Hartley’s observation that, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there,” is not just discerning but accurate.  How will we ever find common conversational coin between us and that tidal wave of young people that is here with more heading our way?  It’s like reliving the babble at Babel (Genesis 11). 

To further complicate our moment, did those of us on the far side of a 70th birthday expect to pioneer in the living-longer and the living-longer-longer phenomenon in which we find ourselves?  George Burns’ line that if he’d known how long he was going to live he’d have taken better care of himself isn’t funny.  It’s a digest of where we who are up to our hips in an unanticipated future find ourselves.   Except as to knowing our life’s ultimate destination we are as dumb about the road ahead as were the disciples in their fascinating John 14:1-6 conversation with Jesus.  What comforts me as I face a here and now unknown is that the Lord and I are on speaking terms, a circumstance that works best if He is doing the talking I am doing the listening.

As I head off into an unknown future this side of eternity I am doing the best I can trying to develop a useful conversation with my extended descendants, whether near term (children) or far (grandchildren and beyond).  I have found that it works best when I understand the three basics needed to engage in effective conversation, discussion or debate.  Let me explain them for you as best I am able.

I. First, before I can effectively participate in any of todays inter- and intergenerational conversation I need to understand and admit the position from which I invariably begin.  More often as not as I begin serious conversation whether with my peers and my posterity with a four step process as an unconscious incompetent.  I don’t know what I don’t know – and need to.  It’s best if I zip my lip as gather as much information and insight into the people and the topic at hand as I can.  As I do that my condition changes to that of a conscious incompetent.  At least I know there is more than I had previously realized.  The operating principle? “Dumb is until you learn – stupid is forever.” 

From there it’s but a short step to becoming a conscious competent a condition built on the new knowledge I am busily gathering.  When the day dawns when I know and know how to intuitively apply what I have learned I will have become an unconscious competent, able to successfully participate in pan-generational conversations and experience positive moments of personal reflection.  It’s like what happens once we have learned how to ride a bicycle with ease or can type without looking at the keys.

That four step sequence is how we learn to first fill our private wisdom well and then dip from it in order to understand and then converse about pan generational issues.  The hardest thing about learning how to do that is admitting that where many pan generational issues are concerned I am an unconscious incompetent.  Me?

II. A second enhancing aid to developing superior intra and inter-generational discussion lay in recognizing the value of basic Robert’s Rules of Order underpinnings. 

Robert’s Rules were developed toward the end of the 19th century as a tool for managing large meetings.  Without getting into all the minutiae that befuddle most there are three principles that, when applied, can both keep conventions under control conventions and enhance one-on-one conversations.  In essence Robert’s Rules isolates and identifies three “common” areas that will make useful discussion and debate (or one-on-one conversation) possible.  

  1. When properly applied Roberts’ guarantees civil discussion by controlling personal attacks on anyone. No put downs of others.  No angry rants.  The minority should be given enough time to speak so that if they are persuasive they can become the majority.  But there is a limit.   All must show Common Courtesy
  1. From the outset identify items about which you agree. Then zero in on matters about which you disagree. Move forward by surfacing areas of Common Consent.
  1. Create the best environment in which to debate and identify the best physical circumstances for serious conversation. Take turns and do all you can to help people hear. Be guided by Common Sense.

III. Finally, make sure that the topic or topics you want to discuss are defined to the satisfaction of all who are involved.  Then deal with one topic at a time.  Without that principle being adopted inter or intra-generational dialogue is in trouble, likely doomed. 

If you take the time to work through I., II. and III. you will see none are very complicated.  I’m not pushing rocket science.  It’s more like knowing within our world that what-goes-up-must-come down.  That’s a basic that is important to know if you plan to shoot an arrow into the air.

Blessings,

Charlie

Just Watching – March 2018

The long standing goal of Rich and Charlie Resources has been to support and encourage parents, pastors and Christian leaders.  That’s important.  Nearing 89 years of age I need all the encouragement I can get whether as a marriage partner (Audie and I just celebrated our 65th anniversary), a parent (we have four married children, 19 grandchildren by birth and marriage and 15 great-grandchildren), a retired pastor (is there such a thing?) and as a garden variety Christian I do the best I can at living a full Christian life at a time hauntingly alike the one which Abe Lincoln called “a stormy present”.  Alike or not one thing is for sure – it’s not the world I boarded in 1929 as the stock market was collapsing and the clouds of WWII were forming.

It strikes me as strange that together with what’s left of our waning Silent Generation (born between 1925 and1944, the smallest of the 20th century) we are being asked from a lot of our world’s corners, “Are you happy?” 

As I work toward answering that question consider how “happy” has recently been recurring:   

  • Six weeks ago we were greeting others with, “Happy New Year”. What do people expect one to look like? 
  • A couple weeks ago Audie and I were carded, called and e-mailed, “Happy 65th Anniversary”. Or, what?
  • Then of course last week we shared cards, candy, flowers and other gifts saying, “Happy Valentine’s Day”. How might that be defined?

The five letter word h-a-p-p-y has been hanging today’s world a lot whether in the opening line of FDR’s 1930s theme song, “Happy days are here again…”, or TV’s more recent “Happy Days” sitcoms, or as the name given one of Snow White’s lovable dwarfs. 

And, off course there’s that pan-generational top 10 tune, “Happy Birthday To You.”  There seems to be many other times or places where happy wedges its way into our life including Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence where at Benjamin Franklin’s suggestion one of the our inalienable rights was changed from “pursuit of money” to “the pursuit of _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.” 

What put me on this happy-kick was two 2018 magazine mentions citing it as a current concern and my curiosity about its meaning and how it found its way into the English language. 

The first magazine mention that I spotted was a full page Special Report of the January 12 edition of The Week featuring opinions and scientific studies about what makes people happy.  They cited positive elements like close relations with family and friends, good health, involvement in creative work and a succession of smaller scale positive experiences.  Money can enhance happiness but after making $75,000 a year more money doesn’t matter as much.  The biggest boost of the way money relates to happiness comes from spending money on others, “…the closer you are to the recipient the happier you’ll be.”

One fascinating ramification that studies surfaced was that happiness declines as we move into the middle years bottoming out a 40 and then steadily rising as we age toward and then through our 70s.  Why?  One suggestion is that as people age their life goals shift from looking for new experiences to relishing existing relationships. 

That same thought was reinforced by a James Leland book that was briefly reviewed in magazine #2, the January AARP Magazine.  Entitled, “Happiness is a Choice You Make” it was seen as a “…uplifting and wise book (that) details the year Leland spent with six people 85 and older.”  The author said that experience raised his spirits like none other adding that, “I expected the year to bring great changes in them.  I didn’t expect it to change me.”  I’ve ordered a copy of that book.  If it’s as good as I think it is I’ll report on it you.

All of which brings me back to my quest for source and root meaning of happy.  It’s an Anglicization of a Norse word that meant “being safe”, “having good fortune” or “being lucky”.  Those meanings make sense of a 16th century saying, “Happy as a clam at high tide.”  Buried in the sea’s bed deep under lots of water that clam is safe, blessed with good fortune and very lucky. 

The dominant current view of happy as meaning joyful or giddy came along a lot later maybe the result of feeling protected and well cared for.  But today’s popular sense of what happy means doesn’t seem to last very long.

Now a question Leland’s book makes us face even before we read it: “Is happiness a choice we make or more likely a matter of chance?”

As I get older, happy is a word I think about a lot and work at wanting to experience every day.  If I don’t do that for me, who will?

What do you think?

Charlie

Just Watching – February 2018

Well, here we are with what turned out to be a short-lived government shutdown while each political party lays blame for that non-event at the door of the other. 

I don’t think I can do much about political blame games and their war of words.  But I do all I can to make sure that words of the Bible are understood and used properly in my family and in my congregational world – which just happens to be the world in which R and C Resources is most interested.  Some (too many!) students of Scripture drag Biblical words across the centuries into today’s world as if their historical, social and political context and the word’s meaning has not changed.

Specific Biblical terms touching family, gender, race, marriage, government, labor or any of a myriad of other life settings cannot be understood apart from the worlds of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Samuel or Daniel in which they initially used.  One of my professors of over a half century ago told us, “Some people pick and use words from the Bible like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support and not for illumination.”  Authentic Lutherans should know better. 

When faced with words as straightforward as those of the Ten Commandments Martin Luther paused, took a deep breath and then asked, “What does this mean in today’s 15th century world?”  Five hundred years removed from Luther’s world Audrey and I ask, “What do Luther’s 15th century answers mean for our 21st century family and our 21st century congregation in our 21st century world?”  The Biblical basic truths haven’t changed but how they are applied today certainly has.  A past LCMS president was badly misunderstood and mauled when he, referring to our church body today, said, “This isn’t our grandfather’s church.”  Yet a lot of leaders today seem determined to make it so even if in the process their views cripple our internal and external Christian witness.  

As a deeply concerned father, grandfather and great-grandfather are today’s national and local institutional views and practices ministering to our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren?   If not could it be because we have made various of God’s words mean sometimes more, sometimes less than what they meant when He initially gave them to us?

What makes this an even more complex matter is that during my lifetime an entirely new generation has been added to our world’s population mix.  There are not only more people in our world than at any time since the Savior was born but they are clustering into uniquely different generations that are living longer (they are) but are living longer longer.  News flash after news flash tells us that many among us don’t play well together as is evident in the generational, gender, racial and cultural eruptions that keep happening with regularity.  

Christian parents and parish leaders today are looking for God’s saving and soothing word for our moment.   We also need to ask whether there is valid guidance in the past that like the cargo in Jonah’s sinking ship needs to be pitched overboard for the family’s and congregation’s safety.  That would be nothing new.  Once we isolated something that was no longer useful, sometimes even useless, in the past we pitched “cargo” aplenty overboard.  But it was often a painful process that only happened after we took on that fearful adversary: change.

There is encouragement for us in seeking out and identifying with the will of God for our world in no less a person than Abraham Lincoln.  When struggling with the hard decision leading to adopting the Emancipation Proclamation he bit the bullet after concluding, “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.”  A fundamental change was needed.

So what “dogmas” of our family and congregational life from the quiet past are inadequate to our stormy present?  Were they defended then as clearly based in the Word of God (applicable for all time) or were they actually derived from fluid and flexible human tradition (appropriate for some moment in time)?  In answering that we must be ready to do the same kind of preparatory hard work that our nation’s founders did leading up to the Declaration of Independence.  It was only after seeming endless discussion and debate that on July 4, 1776 the Declaration of Independence with its awesome opening sentence was adopted:

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness….”

Study those capitalized and underlined words.  What exactly does each mean?  Is there any current difficulty in our nation that is untouched by one or more of those innocent looking vocables?

Our families and our congregations need to be as zealous in searching the Scripture and then adopting their own Declaration of Dependence (only this time on God) as were Jefferson and his co-signers in doing their work.  They did not invent nine new words. They identified and adopted powerful existing words that were appropriate to their moment.  And now it’s our turn.  Can we do as much?

In 1992 a song was written that co-opted the Bethlehem angel’s hope and wish for “Peace on earth…” that was embellished with additional words, “…and let it begin with me.”  As we slip deeper into 2018 my hope is that all of God’s children, especially the extended family with which the Father has surrounded Audrey and me, while paying attention to our tradition-filled Christian past, be fully committed to encouraging and living the Christ life today to its fullest – “… and let it begin with me.”

How’s that for something to work on as the vernal equinox is drawing near?  Faster!  Faster!

Blessings,  Charlie

Just Watching – January 2018

2017 REMNANTS

During the year I collect and pile up items that I think will fit Just Watching and the Rich and Charlie Resources goal of encouraging people/parents/parishes and church leaders.   Each month I review what I’ve gathered and use what seems most appropriate for the moment.   But there are always left over “pearls”. In this last issue of 2017 I want to string together some of them and pass them on to our R and C readers.  I hope they speak to you.

* Dave Carter gleaned from somewhere and then passed on to our Thursdays 6:30 Bible Class the view that the world can be divided into Givers and Takers.  The punch line?  “Takers eat well, but Givers sleep well.”  Now let’s see…

* Much  promotional material coming from the LCMS headquarters urges parishioners to give directly to Synod (credit cards accepted!) bypassing local and district connections.  The assumption underlying that request spears to be a belief that the synod is the church.  For most LCMS history that was considered nonsense smacking of heresy and the response seems to agree.

*Behind the scene for about 170 years there has been a never-ending struggle between the clergy hierarchicalism of Grabau/Loehe (“…beware the papacy of the people…”) and CFW Walther’s local parish and laity based emphasis.  Walther isn’t faring too well today.  I think that if he ever goes down for the count the LCMS of yore will be in trouble. What do you think?

*One answer to those who wonder why congregations are shrinking in both size and number today is that the further a local congregation gets from caring about and serving their own community the smaller it will become.  In the heyday of the LCMS members lived nearby where they could walked or take public transportation (remember street cars?) to church.  As suburban sprawl set in so did local outreach.  When a local congregation no longer primarily serves those living within the shadow of their steeple can they last?  Ditto a family that no longer takes care of its own spiritual needs? 

*For 88 years I’ve watched from a front row seat as the LCMS has been getting smaller even as its Handbook (our in-house book of institutional rules and regulations) has gotten thicker and thicker.   We appear to have forgotten that the Reformation was not about 95 “somethings” nailed to a door but about one incredible Someone who was nailed to a cross.  How does that insight fit the church and family life in which we find ourselves? 

* For years I have attended national and regional church conventions where people tried to craft rules that would give them control.  John 1:17 tells us that law/rules are not the last word in control.  It says, “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth through Jesus Christ…”  Moses may have passed on to us curbs, mirrors and rules meant to keep human nature in check, but it took the gift of a Savior to make a lasting difference in life.  More rules, ala Moses, do not produce unity in marriage, family or in Christian community.  St. Paul agrees.  His I Corinthian 13 ode to love is introduced as being “the more excellent way.”  It’s love, a spiritual gift of which there is never enough, that makes the world go around – not laws.  It’s where the future of authentic families, congregations and friendships lay.

* I can tell that we must be nearing Christmas when I’m asked, “What do you want for Christmas, Dad/Grandpa/Charlie?”  When my Sweet Audie is asked that question she has traditionally answered, “A clean house – and well behaved children.”  Others in my circle of friends and acquaintances echo the angels wider ranging answer of, “Peace on earth” even as they then may argue about whether the balance of the angels’ Christmas Eve announcement  was, “…and good will to men”, or “…to men of good will”.  With the passing of every 21st century day both seem increasingly out of our reach.  But, no matter the answer others give I draw a draw a line at wanting any more “stuff”.  My cup – and my closet and my dresser drawers and all the places I store things – runneth over.  But there is something that I want, wild dream that it may be.  

As a member of a still sizeable Silent Generation that is composed of those born between about 1925 and1944 I yearn for the ability to communicate across the Generations that separate me from my sixteen great-grandchildren, the most recent arrivals being Maeve Davidson and Levi Baker.  More than anything else I want to pass on to them the Good News that is ours in Christ Jesus.  What capacity could be more valuable than that?

I also want to do my best to effectively prepare them for what they will face in the four Life Stages that God has established.  However many of Audie and my sweet sixteen great grandchildren will live into all four of those Life Stages is the Father’s business.   Preparing them to do so is Audie and mine together with any of His 21st century community of saints that are on duty during their lifetime.  Of course, R and C Resources is also here to do all it can to encourage and support parents, clergy and church leaders as they weigh in with help.  May we all do our part in the name of the gift-of-all-gifts, Bethlehem’s Babe.

As 2018 opens may you have been as blessed in this Christmas season as for the 88th time I have been blessed in mine.  Christ is the gift that keeps on giving whether I want Him to or not.  

Charlie